Through the industrial age Blair County was the king of rail, Cambria County was the king of steel, and Somerset County was the king of coal. The common connection between the three counties was coal, moved by the rail, used to make steel and mined out of the ground. Faced with a significant downturn in the local coal industry, a long-time economic driver, leaders in the region sought to identify new growth drivers to create new jobs and business opportunities in the coming decades.
The Appalachian Region Commission (ARC), the regional economic development agency that represents a partnership of federal, state, and local government, offered assistance. Established by an act of Congress in 1965, POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) grants were developed to help communities and regions that had been affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries due to the changing economics of America’s energy production.
Leaders from economic development groups, community groups, elected officials, educational institutions, workforce development groups and other interested parties worked in unison to determine the best approach to encourage new growth, recognizing that new sources of innovation and economic dynamism were needed to drive the region’s economy. Local entrepreneurs had been the source of this dynamism in the past and that engine needed to be restarted and reenergized.
The Alleghenies Entrepreneurial Ecosystem project was designed and funding was secured from ARC and others to support the effort. The Ecosystem incorporates existing resources, enhances existing resources, and develops new resources. There is no singular driver of an entrepreneurship ecosystem because an ecosystem is a dynamic, self-regulating network of many different types of actors. The Alleghenies Entrepreneurial Ecosystem is designed to be responsive to all types of entrepreneurs and includes entrepreneurial spaces, coaches, financing options, and a robust network of assistance programs in all facets of business development.